DioVionne's Freedom Summers

DioVionne Moore knows his way around a dictionary. The ten-year-old flings open the cumbersome book. His finger traces slowly down the page in an intense search for just the right word.

DioVionne will study the meaning of words he finds in the dictionary along with words from his spelling lists and the words he hears from his Pastor Bill to write his poetry. "I write about myself and my journey. I write about how my day went and how I can make it better," he says. "I think about big words and how I can put them together in a poem."

DioVionne spends his summers reading and writing at the Freedom School he attends at Kansas City's Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church—the first Freedom School in Missouri—where he has been a scholar since he turned five.

DioVionne is one of 900 children, ages five to thirteen, enrolled in summer Freedom Schools at nine neighborhood churches located in primarily African American neighborhoods in Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas. With Kauffman support, the number of Freedom Schools in the Kansas City region grew to nineteen by the year 2008. In 2012, nine Freedom Schools continued to serve local youth.

"We really love the Freedom School approach because it uses an intergenerational theme—college interns providing a role model for kids who desperately need role models," said Rev. Eric Williams of Calvary Temple Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri.

Reading is integral to the Freedom School curriculum. Students read books selected by national Freedom School coordinators to reflect diverse cultures. "We'll probably read about thirty or forty books this summer," DioVionne said. Those books take DioVionne to new worlds. "When I'm done reading a book I just close my eyes and think about it. I think about it then I feel like I'm becoming a part of the book. It's just so amazing."

"I've never seen this type of educational programming that kids jumped into so quickly," said Rev. Williams. "They'll remember it, and it will become a part of them for the rest of their lives."

"I just feel good every morning. I feel good about going to Freedom School and learning something new," DioVionne said. "I began to understand things they were talking about in Freedom School and they really touched my heart."